stephmodo: Eating Healthy {and Responsibly} on a Budget

Eating Healthy {and Responsibly} on a Budget

• 08 January 2010

A subject that constantly arises in our home is that of eating well on a budget. After my husband and I read a recent article in Living and watched Food, Inc. together, that subject expanded to "how to eat well in a socially responsible way on a budget". This is a tricky thing to do unless shopping exclusively at Whole Foods is feasible. Here's how we're trying to make it happen:

1. meal plan...this saves $, time and lessens stress (read more about it here). Buy fresh produce to complement what you already have in your pantry to maximize resources.

2. shop's a pain, I know, to schlep to 3 different stores each week but where there's a will, there's a way. After meal-planning I stop first at Whole Foods to take advantage of the sales and the organic milk (this is the cheapest place to purchase organic milk, even over Costco). Shopping only the sales allows me to enjoy the tasty benefits of organic produce for the same price as conventional produce.

3. decide where to spend your money most efficiently...this month's Living gave an honest explanation about organic produce and I appreciated it immensely. This is particularly helpful for those who can't buy organic produce exclusively. One page highlighted the "Clean 15"...the foods with the lowest amounts of pesticide residue. According to the article, it's likely okay to buy fruits and vegetables on this list in the conventional section of your supermarket. Pineapple, broccoli (not the pre-packaged kind), watermelon, onions and tomatoes are all on the list (amongst others). See top left for more info. Also explained was the "Dirty Dozen"...the fruits and vegetables with the highest amounts of pesticide residue (kale, apples, grapes, peppers, strawberries, etc.). I've always wanted to know when it's most important to buy organic I know!

4. sign up for a a local farmer, buy local, get better produce, spend less. It's a win-win. We've been pleased with the vegetable CSA we've participated in for the past 3 years. And just this week we also signed up for a meat CSA through this local farm. Even though we are not huge meat eaters, we do enjoy it in moderation. It feels good to know it's coming from a farm who believes in treating its animals with respect. You can sign up for a CSA in your area here.

5. purchase only what you need...if the recipe calls for 4 slices of bacon, buy just four slices of bacon (vs. the large 12-16 slice package)...if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon turmeric, and it's not a recipe make often, head to a store that sells bulk spices and buy just that amount. I've been practicing this little strategy since grad school and it's quite a money-saver. Resisting the "wants" at the store and focusing on the "needs" is also cost-effective.

6. share resources with a a 50 pound bag of red potatoes a little excessive for your family of 3? Consider finding a friend in the same predicament and split the bag amongst your households. Don't need the entire 2+ pound package of wild salmon at Costco? Apply the same concept and split the package with a buddy.

7. grow a garden...lots of benefits with this one starting with stress-relief, accessible food, minimal costs, kid-activity and full-control over how it's grown. You don't have to be an amazing gardener to follow-through with this one--I can personally attest to this! All you need is perseverance and some basic instruction from a seasoned gardener or two. There is just no substitute for the chance to grab a fresh rosemary sprig outside your backdoor. If you live in an apartment, try growing a simple herb garden in your windowsill. No backyard required :)

Curious about Food, Inc.? Here's a clip. Alice Waters called it "The film I have always been waiting for". We viewed it recently on Netflix Watch Instantly.

images via Living


  1. Thank you for posting this. I recently watched Food, Inc. as well and have had a huge interest in eating healthier. I am also LDS and have re-read (and re-read again and again) the Word of Wisdom to guide me along. I'm bringing myself and my husband back to basics: veggies and fruit. I talked with a friend who said to try and "add more life" in your meals. What a perfect motto! More plants and less fake stuff. I'm so excited to start making changes in my life to be as healthy as I can be!

  2. thank you for your post. It's my resolution for 2010 to eat healty and natural.
    How much is the organic milk in Whole foods?
    I am just asking to find out if it's worth the trip since I don't have a store near by my house.

  3. Thank you, thank you! I watched Food Inc, a few weeks ago and have been agonizing over meat for some time now(a few years). I appreciate the link to Christensen's Farm. It is the answer for my family!

  4. Anon: organic milk is $5.29 at whole foods for one gallon.

  5. Thank you for today's post--it's just what I needed. The buddy system is a great way to save money at Costco. My girlfriend and I often split their bag of Romaine lettuce and organic spinach. We never get through it all before it spoils!

  6. Before I even read the post, I just have to tell you how happy these images made me. Boy, do I love color.

  7. This is such an important topic for individuals and families to be talking about.

    I really like the suggestion of purchasing only what you need. Of course this is more difficult for those who are not surrounded by a multitude of shops, but it makes sense. Buying less, means less waste. I will definitely try to implement this into our shopping routine.

  8. Thanks so much for this post...I really appreciate it!

  9. Love this! i am eager to watch Food, Inc. Thanks for the tip.

  10. We watched Food, Inc a couple of months ago and it has been life changing. We definitely shop around and only buy meat now from the Wholefood/Natural stores. This means we only eat meat now once or twice a week, a huge adjustment but we all feel great because of it. Thanks for sharing this great post.

  11. Loved this post, so helpful! I hope you dont mind if I post it on my blog,( of course listing the source). Keep up the fabulous blogging! I dont always comment, but I always read!

  12. Thanks for this post. It was just what I was needing to read today.

  13. Thanks for the great encouragement and tips - I especially like your suggestion to only buy what you need vs. pre-packaged products. I can't tell you how many half eaten packages of bacon and freezer burned chicken breasts I've tossed over the years. So sad to see the waste. Hooray for Whole Foods where there are lots of wonderful alternatives!

  14. When I opened this month's Living, I said to my husband, "Finally! I've been waiting for this kind of coverage!" If you haven't read Animal Vegetable Miracle (which Living mentioned), it's an eye-opener and one of my favorites, as well as Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food.

    We've completely changed the way we eat in my family over the last 2 years, and it's made a real difference. We're primarily vegetarian, with the aid of an enormous garden and great local farmer's markets, but on the rare occasions that we do eat meat we try really hard to purchase meat that's hormone free and didn't grow up on a foodlot.

    Another thing that I think has made an enormous difference in my family's dietary health: no high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. This January is our 2-year anniversary of that particular pantry cleanse! I felt a little over-the-top about it at first, but it's been interesting to watch how even my four-year-old knows that there are "yucks" in most packaged foods and never puts anything in our cart without asking me to check the ingredients label first.

  15. As an apartment dweller, I have been "wanting" a garden for years. Finally this summer I planted tomatoes, green beans, peppers, thyme and basil in containers on my small patio.

    I got my garden and we enjoyed a bounty of fresh tomatoes and herbs all summer and thanks to our southern climate we will enjoy them year round. More experimentation is needed for the beans and peppers. Ergh.

    This taught me a great lesson about "wishing" for my dream life versus doing everything I can do in my current situation to "have" my dream life.

    Thanks for encouraging me to keep finding new ways to eat well, share more and expand my dream garden.

  16. Stephanie,

    Thank you so much for today's post! I've spent the last few hours researching the Christiansen Farm and ended up buying a small family share (even though we're a large family - I am trying to be reasonable about how much meat we need/would use/should use) today! It is an answer to what has caused me the greatest grief since I read Pollan's books, saw Food, Inc., and read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I haven't known how to tap into meat that was grass fed and humanely raised and slaughtered because even some of what you buy at Whole Foods doesn't meet that criteria.
    I've looked into buying my own side of beef, that kind of thing, but the Christiansen set-up is a perfect fit. Also, I must say, you being "you" lends a definite amount of credibility since I know you have impeccable taste, are a thorough study, and a smart lady. Your stamp of approval was the final push I needed - you're on your way to being Martha 2.0!
    Thanks again!

  17. Rachael: We've eliminated corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils too. It feels good...and it saves money! All that processed junk is so overpriced.

    Amanda: We purchased a small family share from Christensen Farm as well even though we are a family of five. It'll be plenty for us. I'm really excited too, particularly because this will also solve the Thanksgiving conundrum too (they'll give you a turkey too!). Maybe we'll see each other at the pick up point...

  18. i've heard LOTS about Food Inc. and now i really need to see it! reminds me of Michael Pollan's books - read any of them? they def. opened my eyes to the food industry.

  19. yes! I love knowing where my food comes from and the discussion lately (finally!) is so refreshing. we're picking up our first csa box tomorrow.. [food, inc. was our final motivator as well.]

  20. I'm so happy that you mentioned Christiansen Farm. I've been looking for something like that ever since I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a couple of years ago. I'd love to hear how it goes and how you like the meat. I think we're going that route too.

  21. I love this post, thank you! We have always tried to eat a mainly vegetarian diet but since my pregnancy with jane we've made changes by eating more organic, raw and natural foods. Especially now that she's starting to eat solids, I make her baby food at home. I feel better knowing exactly what she's eating and it just makes sense to me.

    When we eat meat we try to get it from pleasant valley beef, another local farm here in utah.
    I also continually wonder about the must have organice vs. ok to eat non-organic as well, happy to find more info on it.

    We used to get milk at Costco (no whole foods here in UT valley) but since Jane's milk allergy we've gone dairy free since October. I've noticed a difference in how I feel since eliminating dairy products and substituting with plant based foods. Although I won't lie, I really miss cheese. It was an eye-opener when I was getting rid of dairy products in our refrigerator and pantry. I thought we were living the principle of moderation in all things, but at least 70% of what was in there was dairy!

    I love making good and healthy changes, your post inspires me to do more. thanks again!

  22. Excellent post, thanks. Just what I needed for a nudge in the right direction as I try to pin down what Eat Healthy will mean for my family this year. Thanks especially to the link to the Christensen's farm!

  23. I am so excited that you started this discussion and people are beginning to see Food Inc. I have been so moved by that film that I refuse to eat meat that isn't sustainably farmed and raised. I am a huge fan of your blog and so happy that you posted about this issue. I saw that Wide Open Spaces also posted about the movie today as well.

  24. This post is really so useful. And I'm off to buy this month's Living to get the full story! Plus adding Food, Inc. to my Netflix instant watch queue. Thank you!(Found you via

  25. Look forward to posts regarding your meat CSA. You are so good at planning your weekly menus, is this a challenge with the "surprise" delivery of your CSA box? Or are you in a CSA that allows you to pick your produce in advance?

  26. Something else to consider - The Eating Clean focus by Tosca Reno - Jenni swears by it for health, weight management and as a personal trainer, she is seeing great results for her clients.

  27. oh, man. I'll be watching this as soon as the kiddies go to bed tonight. exactly what I have been needing.

  28. Love this post! So happy you are spreading the word about FOOD INC.

    I too am a meal planner, trying to pack the most nutrition in everything we eat and still keep costs down. It's important for me to feed my family seasonal, all natural, clean food. I recently came across an excellent cookbook that my whole family has been loving...
    Feeding the Whole Family:
    Cooking with Whole Foods by Cynthia Lair.

    It's cheap up on Amazon. I found it packed with great ideas that use a few basic natural ingredients and they don't take much time to make. The end result = meals that are packed with flavor and very healthy! We have been using it every day for the past 2 weeks. Every meal has been a winner. Like you said in your post 4:00 rolls around and I have a list of ideas. It has been the greatest thing for me and my family of 5. I would love if you posted more on this subject in the future...

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  30. Excellent post. I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver last year, and it really got me thinking more about where my food comes from and how to feed my family in a more socially conscious way. I was already trying to feed my family healthy, whole foods; but like you implied, it's important to take it a step further, to be conscious of factors that go beyond nutritional value alone.

    Living in a rural area with a very short growing season has made purchasing local produce (or growing our own!) a bit of a challenge, but this year I'm going to make even more of an effort to be responsible in the food choices I make for my family. Thanks so much for this post and for the information about additional resources. I don't know how I missed that article in Living--I guess I was skimming a little too quickly this time! I'll have to go check it out.

    Thanks, as always, for enlightening and inspiring posts!

  31. I'm so glad you posted the spread from Martha - it's really helpful! I've had Food Inc. in my queue and now I'm definitely going to rent it. Thanks for the good tips and love your blog :)

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